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May 1, 2022
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US military experts on the expediency of the occupation of Western Ukraine

US military experts on the expediency of the occupation of Western Ukraine

Photo: Alexander Reka/TASS

Director of the Future Warfare Research Institute at the US Naval War College Sam Tangredi“sending foreign troops to defend as yet uncontested territory is the only way to preserve a free Ukraine.”

“No one knows how far it will go Vladimir Putin. Western commentators initially assumed that as soon as Kyiv, Kharkov and Mariupol were taken by Russian troops, and the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky will be executed; The Kremlin will allow the existence of a Ukrainian state under a puppet government, minus the Donbass. A wide coastal corridor will be created between Crimea and Donbass. But after a telephone conversation with Putin on March 3, the President of France Emmanuel Macron warned that “the worst is yet to come” and that the alleged goal of the Kremlin is to seize all of Ukraine and destroy this state,” Tangredi said.

And he goes on to note that, so far, the main reaction of the world has been sanctions. This is a significant effort that has demonstrated the unity of democratic states. However, sanctions only work against governments that are truly concerned about the long-term economic well-being of their people. According to Tangredi, the Kremlin will sacrifice such well-being for the sake of the prestige of military power. Efforts to provide Ukraine with additional weapons are tactically important, he said, but Ukrainian forces are too small to wage conventional warfare against Russia.

According to the expert, “in order for the Ukrainian state to have any future, the West must act immediately to create a zone of peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance in unoccupied Western Ukraine. This “Zone of Peace” will be supported by fully armed troops, either NATO or the EU’s “European Union Defense Force”, or – although this is difficult to implement – a coalition of non-European states ostensibly under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly. This zone will be designed both to protect the civilian population and to maintain a semblance of independence for the Ukrainian people. If President Zelensky had asked for this, then such actions would be in full compliance with international law. As Zelensky has repeatedly stated – most recently after the shelling of the nuclear power plant – “only urgent action by Europe can stop Russian troops.”

According to Tangredi, “rather than confronting Russian forces in their current operations, these peacekeepers, fully equipped for combat operations, could create defensive positions in those areas of Ukraine where Russian soldiers have not yet reached, including Lviv, Volyn, Transcarpathian , Rivne, Ternopil, Khmelnytsky, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, Zhytomyr, Vinnitsa regions, as well as the northern and coastal parts of Odessa and regions that are not yet disputed. Obviously, the central city will be Lvov, to which most of the embassies and many refugees have already moved and which The Economist has already called a “Plan B site”. The goal would be to create a protective barrier around what can be saved from a sovereign Ukraine that will survive the almost inevitable fall of Kyiv and the eastern regions. And, yes, that would include a no-fly zone, but only over a protected area.”

“Once these peacekeepers are in position,” Tangredi reasons, “they will not take any offensive action against Russian forces operating in the rest of Ukraine, but will remain fully prepared to defend themselves and the territory they defend. These should not be lightly armed “peacekeepers”, which have proved largely ineffective in past UN operations. These forces would not initiate military action, but would act as a powerful deterrent against additional military action. In that case, the Kremlin’s choice will depend on whether it wants to fight Europe, and possibly the world, in a war it knows Russia can’t win.”

“Ironically,” the American expert believes, “this would apply the strategic logic that is attributed – perhaps somewhat inaccurately – to the current Russian military strategy: escalation in order to de-escalate or control escalation. In this case, escalation is the presence of Western troops on the unconquered territory of Ukraine. The de-escalation is that it will force the Kremlin to limit its actions to what it considers the liberation of Donbass and the change of the Ukrainian regime, which cannot be stopped without direct action by the West. The presence of a peacekeeping force would establish a deterrent and a hard red line that would allow – in fact, induce – the Kremlin to declare victory and retreat.”

Tangredi points out that “this concept is based on an interpretation of Russian writings on the use of nuclear weapons, which implied that an escalation in the use of force – the use of small tactical nuclear weapons against an opposing force – could discourage the adversary from using any further efforts to provide even greater power in a conflict. (greater conventional force or even strategic nuclear weapons). Escalation to de-escalate has been described as “the escalation of a conflict to the level of a conflict with such a level of violence that it forces the enemy to stop hostilities on what would be acceptable to Russia without further escalation of the conflict.” With regard to US nuclear forces, this concept was rejected in testimony to Congress by the joint US military leadership. But outside of the nuclear stance, it fits well with elements of conventional “deterrence by denying access.” A strong, well-equipped and well-trained force (such as NATO contingents) deployed in protected positions but capable of maneuvering is a deterrent that repetitive retaliation cannot match.”

Evidence of inept operations in Ukraine, Tangredi points out, may not reflect the true competence of the Russian military as a whole. But this suggests that countering a combat-ready peacekeeping force ultimately backed by NATO is not a task that the Russian military command would be willing to take on.

The front line or border of the “Zone of Peace” would be formed by light infantry, such as the Rapid Reaction Force, while armored vehicles, artillery, and combined arms forces would be kept at a distance. These heavier forces would not be a single centralized reserve; they would be deployed throughout the zone, but in positions that do not indicate the intention to advance forward.

Preferably, the light barrier does not include any US troops (to avoid playing along with the Kremlin narrative), but consists of European NATO and/or EU countries or other willing UN members. In fact, there are a number of countries that could be willing to contribute their troops if they were subsidized and supported by the West. The heavier force will be formed from at least three divisions of the US Army or US Marine Corps (or their equivalents). The clear signal would be: we do not intend to move forward to unleash an all-out war, but we will not retreat either.

Ukrainian forces would not be part of the peacekeeping/defense forces, but would be allowed to retreat to cantonments within the zone if they agreed to cease operations in Ukraine’s disputed territories. Attacks by Ukrainian forces from the “Zone of Peace” will not be allowed.

The movement of forces in the peace zone will be carried out mainly by land transport through Poland, Slovakia, Hungary or Romania, and preferably through all these countries. Helicopter landings are possible, but best kept to a minimum until a “Zone of Peace” is initially established and declared. If Odessa remains unoccupied, then troops can be transferred by ships or watercraft from Romania, Bulgaria or Turkey.

Covering aircraft will be based outside of Ukraine, but may be present over the “Peace Zone” as needed, as soon as this zone is created. The goal is to protect the zone, not to regain what is lost. Fighters and close air support aircraft will prevail.

Would such an operational position be consistent with US Army, US Air Force or joint doctrine? Not at all. US combat operations are based on giving battle to the enemy in territory controlled by the enemy. However, the unique and tragic circumstances of the situation, Tangredi believes, require creativity that goes beyond doctrine. The goal is to preserve Ukrainian sovereignty in those areas not yet under Russian control in order to provide humanitarian support to the Ukrainian people and preserve an independent future for them, while avoiding an all-out war with Russia. This cannot be done through sanctions alone. This also cannot be achieved through cyber warfare.

The expert continues: “The obvious fear that makes Western countries wary of open intervention in an unjust conflict that could destroy the supposed ‘liberal world order’ is the fear of nuclear war. I argue that this opportunity can be managed by limiting military efforts to preserve the territory still under the control of the government of Ukraine. As dire as the prospects for a nuclear exchange may be, deterrence must be maintained, even in the Kremlin’s view, if conflict on Russian soil or with Russian forces can be avoided. Offensives that completely drive the Russians out of Ukraine would be the ideal outcome of this conflict, but once again it plays into the hands of the Kremlin narrative and could provoke a vague reaction. Such operations will remain the prerogative of the Ukrainian military (and civilian) forces. Protecting unoccupied Ukraine is a completely different matter.”

Operations planners will argue that the static defense inherent in such an operation in a peace zone does not make sound military sense. And, in terms of total conflict, they are right. This course of action limits operational maneuver, which is seen as the most desirable attribute for any military force. This would allow for tactical maneuver, but would require giving up the advantage of a multi-pronged attack and operational camouflage and disinformation.

However, the goals – once again – do not include the destruction of enemy forces, but the maintenance of the current status quo in a particular territory. This is done in order to check the “king” of the opponent, and not to kill his “pawns”. Comparisons with the unsuccessful defensive actions of history are unavoidable, but it must be remembered that a strong defense fails only when the enemy is greatly outnumbered, or when the defense is outflanked; The classic example is the Maginot line. Russian forces are inferior to the combined forces of NATO and poorly demonstrate their potential in Ukraine. The potential for breaking through or outflanking a well-prepared “Peace Zone” is relatively small, says Tangredi.

The possibility of a protected peace zone is already being discussed in secret in Europe. Prime Minister of Portugal Antonio Costa hinted that his government was ready to introduce its (admittedly small) forces into the territory of Ukraine. This discussion has not yet entered the consciousness of the Americans, and there is no sign that the presidential administration Biden is considering this option. But it should be open and widely discussed and considered now while it can still be implemented.

Yes, the most likely outcome will be Eastern Ukraine (controlled by Russia) and Western Ukraine (controlled by NATO). But it would keep the hope that – like East and West Germany before – Ukraine would be united again in the future.

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